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WPRO radio host John DePetro was chatting on Jan. 13 with Cranston School Committee member Frank Lombardi about the U.S. District Court order to remove a Christian prayer posted on the wall of a high school auditorium when talk turned to football and freedom of expression.
With the playoff game between New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos looming, DePetro lamented that things have gotten so bad, "There are atheists in Denver and they're asking the NFL to stop Tim Tebow from praying on the sideline."
Lombardi agreed and DePetro went on, bringing the American Civil Liberties Union into the mix.
"Look at the mindset you're dealing with," the radio host said. "ACLU and atheists in Denver are demanding the NFL stop him from praying on the sidelines. He's not forcing anyone to join him. He's off in the zone. You see players sitting with their head down. He happens to kneel on one knee. But that is the mindset we're dealing with in 2012."
Lombardi joined in, saying he's "concerned about the slippery slope. Where does it end? . . . I don't know where it ends. I'm certainly troubled by Tim Tebow's situation where you're going to regulate private behavior. I think that goes against everything that we stand for."
Even we thought that atheists and the ACLU would be guilty of a personal foul if they were trying to get the Broncos’ quarterback in trouble for committing prayer interference.
So we went to Google to search for stories about the ACLU-atheist demand to the NFL.
We came up empty-handed.
So we contacted DePetro. He sent us links to two web pages.
The first was a story by the CBS affiliate in Denver headlined "Atheist Group Believes Tebow 'Full Of Crap' With Public Display of Christianity." It quotes David Silverman, president of a New Jersey-based group, American Atheists, and makes no reference to any demand to the NFL or any reference to the ACLU.
The second was from the Bad Catholic blog on Patheos.com criticizing Silverman's comments. Again, no reference to any demand to the NFL and no reference at all to the ACLU.
We asked Patrick Smyth, executive director of media relations for the Broncos about DePetro's statement. "This is the first I've heard of that," he said.
"No, not aware of this," said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.
"We haven't made any demands," said Silverman, president of the atheist organization. "No law is being broken. He has the right to do it. We think he's wrong to exercise his right this way. But we don't have the right to demand anything because the NFL is a private enterprise. It's like demanding someone say Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays."
Finally, we called the ACLU of Colorado, where spokeswoman Rosemary Harris Lytle said DePetro's statement was not true.
"The ACLU would never demand that anyone stop praying. A lot of our work is standing up for [religious] rights, even for people some of us would consider extremists," she said. "We would stand for religious liberty and religious diversity for people of all faith backgrounds" as long as it doesn't violate the separation of church and state.
(In fact, the ACLU has a web page devoted to highlighting cases it has supported to protect the rights of individuals to practice or express their religion.)
Talk radio host John DePetro said, while discussing quarterback Tim Tebow, that the "ACLU and atheists in Denver are demanding the NFL stop him from praying on the sidelines."
DePetro's evidence consisted of two web pages that make no such claim.
And given the ACLU's history of defending an individual's right to practice his or her religion, the idea that the organization would try to block Tebow from praying when he's not bothering anyone or disrupting a game is ridiculous
We've seen the light. It's not from a burning bush. It's from a Pants On Fire!
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WPRO.com, "John DePetro Show - Lombardi says he would like to appeal," dated and accessed Jan. 13, 2012
E-mails, John DePetro, talk radio host, WPRO, Jan. 13 and 16, 2012
Denver.CBSlocal.com, "Atheist Group Believes Tebow 'Full Of Crap' With Public Display of Christianity," Jan. 10, 2012, accessed Jan. 13, 2012
Patheos.com, "Tim Tebow - Full of Crap?" on the Bad Catholic blog, Jan. 11, 2012, accessed Jan. 13, 2012
Interview, Patrick Smyth, executive director of media relations, Denver Broncos, Jan. 17, 2012
E-mail, Brian McCarthy, spokesman, National Football League, Jan. 17, 2012
Inverview, David Silverman, president, American Atheists, Jan. 17, 2012
Interview, Rosemary Harris Lytle, communications director, American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, Jan. 17, 2012
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